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Environmentalists unimpressed with Delhi govt’s measures to tackle pollution

Breathless in Delhi Updated: Nov 07, 2016 11:19 IST
Sweta Goswami
A top view of Connaught Place as smog covers the capital's skyline in New Delhi, India on Sunday.

A top view of Connaught Place as smog covers the capital's skyline in New Delhi, India on Sunday.(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

With pollution levels going off the graph, the Delhi government announced a slew of emergency measures on Sunday to make the city a little less of a gas chamber that it has already become.

But environmentalists are unimpressed with the chief minister’s (CM) directives. They believed the steps, most of which are a repetition of last year’s action plan, are too little too late.

“Any government would have taken these measures when pollution levels are the highest in about two decades. They have been initiated when things have slipped out of hands,” said Bhargav Krishna from Public Health Foundation of India. Krishna asked why the government did not act earlier, when the situation could have been controlled.

He was referring to the CM’s announcement of shutting schools for three days, imposing a five-day ban on construction and demolition, and sprinkling of water on fly ash dumps near Badarpur Thermal Power Plant and roads of 100-feet width and above.

Read | Delhi pollution: Schools shut for 3 days, odd-even may return, says Kejriwal

A look at the pollution control measures taken by the Delhi government last year suggests that a number of steps, which otherwise should have continued at regular intervals, have only been reintroduced or re-packaged.

For example, shutting the Badarpur plant — a major contributor of fine pollutants (PM 2.5) — was announced last year.

But, it was allowed to fire on after NTPC that runs the plant installed emission control machines. Experts say there is still no control on the huge amounts of fly ash emitted from it.

“Just last December the Delhi government had submitted an action plan to the Supreme Court. The plan clearly stated that vacuum cleaning of all PWD roads would be done at regular intervals April onwards. But, it was done just once during the inauguration and has been talked about now. Stopping fires from landfill sites and burning of leaves and waste were also mentioned but never implemented,” added Krishna.

Read | Delhi pollution levels 15 times the safe limit, no respite in sight

Centre for Science and Environment’s Sunita Narain told HT that the emergency action needs strong enforcement and zero tolerance. “If the government does not want it to be too little too late, then it has to ensure effective implementation of each measure so that air pollution is lowered at least to ‘poor’ from the existing ‘severe’ levels,” she said.

Globally, emergency action kicks in the moment pollution hits the worst air quality level according to the National Air Quality Index and persists at least for three consecutive days. This is done to minimize the amount of pollutants and protect residents, especially children and patients.

“But in Delhi, there has been no respite from the choking haze of pollution since Diwali. The measures have come eight days later. Now the odd-even scheme and parking restraints must also be implemented simultaneously,” Narain added.